Why does the Azusa Street Revival matter so much today?
I hear that the modern Pentecostal movement has lost sight of its roots. The Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles was not the perfect storm that many think of it today. It was full of people just like you and me: people with problems that trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe it is impossible to have a serious look at Pentecostalism without an understanding of the Azusa Street revival that broke things wide open.
The Los Angeles Times wrote about the meetings saying that people of all classes, races, and backgrounds were found in the services. In one article, it talked about “Big Negros looking for a fight and little fairies dressed in dainty chiffon.” This was the environment that the modern Pentecostal really got started. (I realize this is up for debate because of the Topeka Outpouring)
The portrait of the Azusa Street Revival is important to understand. It is possible that we can find the solution to many of the problems facing the modern Pentecostal movement by a hard look at what started it all at 312 Azusa Street. They didn’t have multi-million facilities nor private jets. They were mostly poor people that had encountered the Holy Spirit and took the great commission seriously.
How Azusa Street really happened
A lot of people do not know the backdrop of the revival. It did not start there or even in California. It actually started in Topeka, Kansas. Charles Fox Parham ran this school and in 1901, the first modern Pentecostal revival started. They would head to Kansas City down through parts of Kansas on their way to Houston.
It was in Houston that the future leader of the Azusa Street revival came into contact with the already going movement of Pentecostals. He had his own encounter in Indiana and Ohio. He wanted to learn more about the Holy Spirit but being black in the early 1900’s, that was not possible. He would sit outside the window of the classes where he would overhear the services. (There remains a question if this was due to Jim Crow laws or Parham’s own racism)
He would get asked to come to Los Angeles and pastor a holiness church. He was told by Parham to not go. The question must be asked if William Seymour had remained in Houston, would the revival happened there or would have Charles Fox Parham demanded the attention on himself.
After being kicked out of the church he came to pastor over preaching on the Holy Spirit, he was left homeless. A family had pity on him until he could figure out what is next. It was here that the revival started on Bonnie Brae. After the number exploded, they moved to the empty building on Azusa Street.
One thing that I find interesting about the start of the revival is that was started by a homeless man and the site is home today to Skid Row, the largest area of homeless people in the United States.
It was a national revival
It is true that the Azusa Street Mission was home for hundreds of believers, but it is also true that there was thousands who just came for the “watering hole.” It was very common to have people from all over the country in the meetings. This was uncommon for people to travel for revival meetings in 1906. The country was not connected in real time and just a quick flight away.
Much like the renewals and revivals of the 1990’s, people came in quest of impartation. Some of them walked away with a fresh baptism and vision for the harvest to take back home. An example of this would the founder of the Church of God in Christ, Charles H, Mason. Others would come just to see the odd meetings and would leave with only entertainment.
Then, you had the people who traveled to Los Angeles just to cast stones at the movement. They would tell the people how “dangerous” the direction of the revival was and even calling William Seymour a false prophet. What interest me about this groups of people they had been praying for revival when the revival came. They rejected the move of God they prayed for because they did not like how it looked.
One thing we do know is everyone that walked into the Azusa Street Mission left changed. No one walked in and out the same. The critics would become more critical and the faithful would draw closer to the Spirit.
Recovering the fire of Azusa Street
In the decades since the revival, the Pentecostal church has lost it complete dependency on the Holy Spirit. It has been replaced with systems and courses. Many churches has become liberal as they went down the roads of seeker sensitivity and being purpose driven. Today, few Pentecostal churches look anything like the revival at Azusa Street.
We live in a time where praying in tongues is discouraged, not encouraged. Intercession is pushed to a side room and Pentecostal preachers refer to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as merely “being touched by God.” There is no question if the leaders in Los Angeles of a century ago would roll in their graves at what is common place in many churches.
The need for a rediscovery of it is critical. It is the hope of Azusa Report that pastors across America will study about the revival that started it all for us and use it as a measuring stick against their own ministries. I firmly believe that many will find what they are doing to be lacking.
While there may not be a “well to be redug,” the truth of what made the revival happen and spread is still the same for this generation. The names and locations may change but the mandate from Heaven to be about God’s business does not.
The question that I will leave you with this: How much about the Azusa Street revival and Azusa Street Mission do you really know?